Thursday, July 24, 2014

Autumn in American Basin

“Autumn in American Basin”
(Colorado Rockies)
Oil Sketch on Ampersand Gesso Panel
4” x 6”

Back in October I spent more time in the Colorado Rockies than I had intended, since I was waiting for the government shutdown to end and the National Parks to reopen and I didn’t want to move too far west, so as not to miss some of those that I wanted to see; who knows how long it might be before I might pass that way again.  On October 7th, after three days on the forest road south of Gunnison, I continued south to Lake City and Lake San Cristobal, one of the larger natural lakes in Colorado; about 700 years ago, the Slumgullion Slide came down the mountainside and blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, thus forming the Lake.  I found a great campsite on the south side of the lake at a county campground at no charge, it being after the season; I was the only one there after my first night, spending 4 of the next 5 nights there. 

After setting up camp on a cliff above the lake, I began a drawing in my sketchbook and finished it the next morning, before exploring up the Lake Fork and eventually ending up at 11,500’ at American Basin.  To get there I had to pass along the scariest two-mile stretch of road I’ve ever driven; a single-lane track cut from mountains-cliffs on the right and shelving off down into a river gorge on the left so deep and narrow the water remained unseen below; I had to keep my eyes on the track ahead, but I kept wanting to look to the left and down.  After 2 miles the cleft broadened out into a pleasant valley, with the river running through it before it plunged into the gorge I’d just driven.  This valley, about 5 miles long, was full of miners and boasted several towns back in the late 1800s.  Now I met a few hunters, one all the way from Alaska, scouting out the deer population before the season opened on the following Saturday. 

A few miles further on I arrived in American Basin just in time to cook supper and settle down for the night.  The temperature was a bit odd in that there was a chill breeze wafting down from the snow field on the basin wall to the south, but the ambient temperature itself must have been higher since I felt warmer in my sleeping bags that night than the first night on the forest road where I had painted the Autumn Cottonwoods; and I was about 2500’ higher in altitude.
The next morning I rolled out of my sleeping bags at first light and as the first rays of the Sun touched the mountain spires I began the little Oil Painting above. I was struck be the morning shadow gradually moving down the western flank on the right, as well as the cloud shadows.  The russets and ochres of the Autumn grasses and leafless bushes contrasted nicely with the violets and blues shadowed areas.  I don’t believe any of the snow on the mountain wall is a glacier, but certainly we are in a glacial basin a remnant of at least the last Ice Age, if not at some time since.  A couple of months ago I revisited the painting and glazed in some colour, strengthening the work overall, but especially the shadows, and thus the contrast between the light and shade.  I have signed this work S.T. Johanneson, instead of with just my monogram STJ, thus denoting it to be a complete painting, as opposed to being a sketch or study, and if you have read under the “Stuff” tab that means a higher starting price, as you may have noticed.

I had hoped to attempt to go higher from here up to 12500’-plus, as the track continues steeply up to the right-rear behind our viewpoint, and crosses a high pass, but the snowfalls already occurring in September, had blocked it at that altitude; and Winter is coming (sorry, for a moment I thought I was inside Game of Thrones), by that evening snow was in the forecast, so that afternoon I backtracked down the desperate road, only passing one vehicle on the scary two-mile stretch (luckily we met at a passing spot), and on below to my campsite on its cliff above the lakeside.  There I awaited the snow and watched it gently fall over 36 hours; it only accumulated about 4” as it was warm enough to melt a certain amount as it landed; I was hoping for more. 

No imprimatura, and the pigments used were: Yellow Ochre, a touch or two of Cadmium Orange, Venetian Red, a little Sap Green, Cobalt Blue, and Cremnitz & Titanium Whites.

Even though I have more Colorado paintings to come, tomorrow’s post will show my first red rock painting in Utah.

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